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Ruisdael, View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds

Video transcript

(piano music) - We're in the Mauritshuis in the Hague in the Netherlands, and we're looking at probably the most famous painting by Jacob van Ruisdael. This is a landscape of the city of Haarlem. - And it's recognizably Haarlem, because of the church of Saint Bavo, that rises above the skyline. But most of the painting is cloud. It is a landscape. A new type of painting in the 17th century, in Holland. In a way I wish this was called a skyscape. - There is a long tradition of landscape, and you can find some landscape from the ancient world. You can find some early examples in the renaissance, but their almost always subsidiary to something else. Here we have a landscape that is very much about this place. It is a portrait of a city. - A portrait of someone's love of a city. Built into these portraits of a place is the artists feeling and attachment. We have Vermeer painting Delft, where he lived most of his life. We have van Ruisdael painting Haarlem, where he lived. - At least one artist has suggested that this may have been commissioned by the person who owned linen works that we see in the foreground. If you look closely those are not the fields of a farm in the foreground, but rather they're broad areas where linen is laid out, so that the sun can bleach it. This is a partly cloudy day, and the sun is only partially reaching that. In fact Ruisdael has effectively used both light and shadow to draw our eye back into the depth of the landscape. - There are alternating planes of light and dark. We start in the very foreground in shadow. We move to those bleaching fields return the sunlight. Then another area of shadow, and then another area of sunshine where we see an open field. And then shade, and then light, and then the church in the distance. This helps our eye to move into space, and to travel through the landscape. - And to do it slowly, and to lead our eye lovingly through the space. Now Holland is a very flat country, so one might wonder where the artist is standing, to have this great perspective. If you look carefully at the very foreground between the grasses you can just make out that that's sand. and this is likely a dune, that is giving him this kind of elevation. - Well, he's probably sketched outside. We're so used to thinking about artist painting outside with tubes of paint, but this was likely constructed in the studio. - 70 percent of this canvas is given over to the sky. To these beautiful billowing clouds, and the sense that everything is in motion. - Right, and it's a very specific landscape. In Italy at this time the Italian painters are, and French painters too, are painting idealized, classicizing landscapes. Where it's always perfectly sunny. It's always the spring. Here we have a sense of weather, time, specificity that makes this town enduring. Even as time passes, even as those clouds go by. Even as the gap of light changes on the landscape. - That change is such a hallmark of this historical moment. Stylistically we call the Baroque, the 17th century. Where a kind of dynamism within the static landscape is brought to the foreground. - That's right, even within portraits we get a sense of the dynamic of movement. Even in genre scenes. There's this interest in things that are in process. We certainly have that here, in this beautiful landscape by Ruisdael.